Fostering Growth with Equity

Asia has been experiencing “an extraordinarily rapid transformation,” observes Stephen McGurk. As IDRC’s New Delhi-based Regional Director for South Asia and China, McGurk has seen in the cityscape around him reflections of both positive and negative aspects of this transformative growth.

Asia has been experiencing “an extraordinarily rapid transformation,” observes Stephen McGurk. Explosive economic growth has unleashed, in many parts of the continent, a series of historic shifts “in many areas of life — social relations, relations between citizens and their states, relations between countries.”

As IDRC’s New Delhi-based Regional Director for South Asia and China, McGurk has seen in the cityscape around him reflections of both positive and negative aspects of this transformative growth.

Environmental degradation, intensified urbanization, and the resulting strain on infrastructure are apparent in daily life — and have led to increased confrontation.

“There have been traders’ strikes and universities have been closed because of active disagreements between authorities and citizens over how urban life should be lived,” he says.

“This is symptomatic of the challenges India’s rapid development is causing, particularly in urban areas, large and small, where rapid change is visceral and there is increasing conflict over the nature of India’s transformation.”

Environmental burdens, urban stress Intensified migration and the resulting urban stress are not unique to India, of course, and IDRC — through its Urban Poverty and Environment program — has been addressing these issues across the region. Colombo, Sri Lanka, for example, is an IDRC Focus City. There, a multistakeholder team is attempting to promote good practices and offer policy options to reduce environmental impacts.

Building on the local municipal council’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Framework, the Colombo city team is looking at how improved service delivery can reduce environmental burdens — concentrating on specific links such as the one between land tenure and improvements in water and sanitation services. The team is also supporting a participatory process to encourage safe urban agriculture.

Mirroring the crisis in rapidly expanding urban areas are the poor economic circumstances in rural areas — the root cause of the new migration to overcrowded cities.

“Although India has become a global economic leader,” McGurk says, “poverty in rural India has decreased quite slowly in 30 years. That leads to governments falling and to increasing discontent because citizens in poorer regions are increasingly aware of the global role their country is playing and of the impacts of globalization on their own lives, but also of economic inequities.”

As in urban areas, the poverty that’s evident on the rural landscape has environmental consequences — creating an interlocking set of problems that is the target of IDRC’s Rural Poverty and Environment program.

One project in India, undertaken with Canadian and Indian partner organizations, illustrates this link. It examines the potential of policies to be adaptive or maladaptive to change, with a view to describing the common features of adaptive policy-making. For example, weather-indexed crop insurance can protect farmers’ incomes and stabilize precarious rural economies.

The underlying idea is that insurance against weather-related crop failure can improve farmers’ risk profiles, thereby increasing their access to bank credit — while at the same time reducing their vulnerability to climate variability.

Building regional networks

Across South Asia, complex and interwoven sets of problems suggest that nations need the best tools to rise to the challenges that face them. But the strength of research institutions varies by country, which is why IDRC is committed to helping build national research capacity, partly through the construction of regional networks.

“Our efforts through research networks and multi-country projects try to tie in the major Asian drivers of change and regional research hubs with countries that have weaker research capacity,” explains McGurk. “The idea is to address problems in individual countries through working with peers in multi-country or regional venues.”

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) represent another tool with great potential to help South Asia’s citizens find their own, more rewarding futures. Perhaps the most ambitious deployment of ICTs to date is Mission 2007 — a brainchild of the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation supported by the Indian government, IDRC, Microsoft, and others — a social networking effort to extend the concept of the “Village Knowledge Centres” across rural India.

A pilot in rural Pondicherry, long supported by IDRC, is based on the idea that information is a critical missing ingredient that could transform local ingenuity and energy into improvements in living standards. Accordingly, Mission 2007 aims to provide isolated rural people with Internet-based access to critical knowledge on health matters, approaching weather conditions, current commodity prices for local goods, and so forth.

While Mission 2007 is the culmination of many years’ work, IDRC has also embarked on a whole new field of endeavour: helping to rebuild democratic institutions in Afghanistan.

Drawing on a 36-year history of research partnerships in post-conflict peacebuilding, as well as its recognized expertise in gender issues, IDRC is now establishing relationships with Afghan civil society organizations. Areas of work include helping women to participate in reconstruction, providing rural farmers with new ICT tools, and working to strengthen local seed systems.

In South Asia, a region marked by rapid and profound change, it appears that long-term commitment and shortterm flexibility are complementary ingredients for success.

Published: 20 Jan 2008

Contact details:

Head Office
Mailing address PO Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3H9

208 Jor Bagh, New Delhi 110003, India
Phone: (+91-11) 2461-9411

Latin America and the Caribbean:
Juncal 1385, Piso 14
11000 Montevideo, Uruguay
Phone: (+598) 2915-0492

Middle East and North Africa 
Zahran Gate Complex Suite 302,
25 Ismael Haqqi Abdo Street,
Amman, Jordan

Sub-Saharan Africa
PO Box 62084 00200, Nairobi, Kenya

Street address: Eaton Place, 3rd floor
United Nations Crescent, Gigiri, Nairobi, Kenya
Phone: (+254) 709-074000

+1 613 236 6163
News topics: 
Content type: